Still No Cure For Cancer

The science blog Respectful Insolence has an excellent and in-depth piece on why why the “miracle drug” DCA isn’t a cure for cancer and why the conspiracy stories surrounding it are baseless. Once again, the people who scream the loudest have the least informed opinions:

What irritates me about the hysteria some bloggers are whipping up over this is that it is at its heart basically paranoid conspiracy mongering, and the reason this story has any legs at all is because people are inherently distrustful of big pharma. There are some good reasons for this and many reasons that boil down to little more than an inherent distrust of big corporations. Even now, for example, our old “friend” Dean Esmay is likening big pharma’s disinterest in DCA to its disinterest in the use of high dose vitamin C against cancer. Never mind that Dean doesn’t know what he is talking about when it comes to the alleged efficacy of vitamin C against cancer. Never mind that vitamin C never in even Linus Pauling’s hands showed anywhere near the efficacy against cacncer cells in vitro and in animal models that DCA has. Never mind that even high dose vitamin C has shown in essence no evidence of efficacy against cancer in humans. Given those facts, it’s not surprising that pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in vitamin C as a treatment for cancer, regardless of its cost or patentability.

What is most pernicious about the conspiracy-mongering stories being spread about DCA is that it builds false hope. People with cancer hear about this drug, and they think there’s an amazing cure out there that’s being withheld from them because of the greed of big pharma. Big pharma may show a lot of greed at various times, but that’s nonetheless a very distorted version of the true situation.

I’ve lost a number of relatives to cancer. The idea that there’s some magic bullet out there is very appealing. It’s also completely untrue. Cancer isn’t one disease, it’s a process by which a number of diseases turn healthy cells into malignant ones. What cures or prevents one form of cancer won’t necessarily work on another. In fact, the substance being touted as the next miracle drug itself has observed carcinogenic effects.

It’s another example of simplistic thinking — big pharmaceutical companies are assumed to be evil because some people don’t understand the way the drug market actually works. There are plenty of legitimate critiques of the pharmaceutical industry to be made — but most people never bother to do the research necessary to build an intelligent argument. It’s another example of how sloppy thinking and bad science join together to spread misinformation, fear, and ignorance rather than reasoned and informed opinion.

2 thoughts on “Still No Cure For Cancer

  1. Since I know virtually nothing about cancer other than what I’ve learned in general molecular/cell biology classes, I can’t comment as to the efficacy of this drug.

    However, there are 2 problems here:

    1. Science journalists tend to be irresponsible. They don’t always understand what they’re reporting on and have to sell papers, thus they blow things out of proportion and get things wrong.

    2. Pointless distrust of biotech industries. This isn’t unique to drug companies, but extends into my field, agriculture. Environmentalists love to hate Monsanto because of ZOMG TEH FRANKENFOODZ!. Like you say, there are always things that could be fixed or improved. But in general, the histrionics associated with biotech companies generally aren’t warrented. Just because somebody is out to make money doesn’t automatically make them bad. Granted, as a liberal I think that companies require oversight, but I recognize that the private sector is good at some things.

  2. The only cancer that I have personal knowledge of is what my daughter had, a pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma.

    There was no magic bullet for it then, though the survival rates have vastly improved since that day. Back then, the stage at which the patient presented factored into things, especially with neuroblastoma. If it was in the bone marrow, what was already going to be an uphill battle was going to be worse. I would imagine that the stage of presentation still matters today. And of course, there are the side-effects of the treatment to consider since that is one of the trade-offs.

    Since my daughter’s treatment was consider experimental at the time, there was a bit of a course to be navigated. The first was did she even qualify for the study? Did the blood chemisty and bone marow examinations fall within the study parameters? After that, there was considerable record keeping associated with her treatment and progress, since all of that data had to captured in a standardized fashion and forward to the protocol coordinator in Alabama. The patient is tracked until they either succumb to the disease or the requisite number of disease free years passes. And this was all after the drugs used for treatment had been used on animals and then adults.

    Esmay’s writing almost makes it sound like it’s no big deal to set up a trial. He probably has no personal reference points in this area.

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